In 2009, Neill Blomkamp became one of the hottest names in sci-fi when he burst onto the scene with his debut feature, District 9. The film was a massive success, both critically and commercially, earning over $200 million and an Academy Award nomination for best picture. His follow-up was 2013’s Elysium, a solid effort, but certainly not as successful. Now we have Chappie, another Blomkamp effort set in South Africa, but his third feature is his weakest yet. The film is directed fairly, but the script written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell is practically horrendous. It’s a weird mish-mash of tones and ideas that never seem to gain a strong footing. Even worse, the film is riddled with inconsistencies, plot holes and things that just don’t make any sense. It’s the kind of script that you would expect a 12-year-old with an affinity for RoboCop and Short Circuit to conjure up.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, the crime rate has gone down thanks to the creation of a robotic police force. Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the creator of the robots and he hopes to take his next step forward by creating a robot with an evolving consciousness. This project is denied by his boss (Sigourney Weaver), but he decides to steal the parts from the company and do it anyway. He is then kidnapped by a gang of criminals (Ninja, Yolandi Visser and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who force Deon to create this robot to help them pull off a heist. Deon puts the parts together and creates Chappie (Sharlto Copley), a good-hearted robot who is learning to live just like an infant would. But when Deon’s jealous coworker (Hugh Jackman) finds out about Chappie, he threatens to ruin the entire project.

All three of Blomkamp’s films have a similar tone and feel to them, but Chappie is the first time that these sensibilities are beginning to grow thin. You can only watch a director repeat himself several times before it begins to grow uninteresting. That being said, Blomkamp’s use of visual effects have always been top-notch and the effects on display in Chappie are quite stunning. Other than a few short moments, Chappie always looks like a part of the world that he’s in and the CGI that was used to bring him to life is rarely apparent. Also helping Chappie feel real is Sharlto Copley’s warm-hearted motion-capture performance. Despite playing a robotic character, Copley’s performance is the most human in the entire film, with the rest of the cast either going too far over-the-top or stuck in uninteresting roles.

But the problems with the tone and the characters don’t even begin to compare to the ineptitude that’s on display in the script. Not only is the overall story a mess, filled with too many villains and different storylines, but every 5-10 minutes the characters will do something that just doesn’t make sense. For lack of a better word, I’ll call these things plot holes, although they don’t necessarily directly involve the plot. But there so many of these holes that I was completely taken out of the film. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride, the only thing I could focus on was finding more things that didn’t make any sense. To prove my point, here’s a short list of things in the script that I had a problem with (MINOR SPOILERS BELOW):

Why doesn’t Deon call the cops after getting kidnapped by a group of murderous street thugs?

Why does Hugh Jackman’s character pull a gun out in the middle of an office and not receive any punishment for it?

Why did Ninja force Chappie to walk the streets with the possibility that he may never come back if Chappie was the only way that they could pull off a heist?

Why does Yolandi wear a Chappie T-Shirt?

Why does Yolandi have a doll of herself?

Why does Ninja (who is portrayed by a member of the rap group Die Antwoord) wear a Die Antwoord T-Shirt?

Why is the entire plot of the film dependent on someone’s reaction to a kitten poster?

Why does nobody supervise Hugh Jackman when he drives The Moose for the first time?

How does a neural transmitter work on Chappie, who has no neurons?

The script is a mess and the entire film feels like an extended commercial for the rap group Die Antwoord, who Blomkamp decided to cast in the film. The constant use of their songs is a detriment to the film, as are their characters, who we are forced to sympathize with, even though they are criminals who rob and murder people. There are some interesting action sequences and the score by Hans Zimmer is actually pretty good, but none of the positive aspects in the film are able to build up to a worthy whole. With Blomkamp set to direct the next entry in the Alien franchise, let’s hope that Chappie is a fluke and not a sign of what the rest of his career will entail.

Chappie receives 2/4

Advertisements